We stopped at Croton Point Park for lunch. Lunch was curtailed by bees so we decided to move on to the village of Cold Springs. On the way out of the park we stopped to see if there were any birds at the Echo Canoe Launch. There was only a mockingbird. I saw a sign there with a poster of The Hudson Valley Echoes written and illustrated by Theodore Cornu. I researched his name at home later and found more of his artwork (two included here). And I found an article about him which points out that he could be the father of the Environmental Movement. I paraphrased the article below.
Remembering Theodore Cornu
Theodore J. Cornu was born in New Jersey to a Swiss mother and father, who abandoned his mother and siblings. Cornu demonstrated an affinity for art and became employed as an “engrosser” in a Manhattan studio hand lettering diplomas and other documents. Canoeing was popular amongst his colleagues, which led him to the boating community in Ft. Washington. His love for canoeing fostered his interest in the Hudson River and Native American customs. He paddled up the Hudson to explore the Croton River.
Soon thereafter he met Anne Van Cortlandt. The two hit it off and he was able to rent The Ferry House on the shore adjacent to The Van Cortlandt Manor House. He became adept in the process of building canoes.
His activism emerged after years of enduring the oil slicks washing up the Croton River from the New York Central Railroad facility, where the waste from its cleaning procedures was discharged into the mouth of the Croton River. The fish caught in the river were said to smell and taste like oil. In 1933 Cornu enlisted the support of some fishermen in Crotonville to implore the State to pressure the railroad to clean up its act. They won.
By the late thirties, Cornu was a member of four canoeing associations. In 1936 he was involved in the founding of the Hudson River Conservation Society. His use of native American inspired environmental care and wisdom to foster environmental protection was uniquely his.
Cornu took on another fight in 1956. Westchester County’s used Croton the point as a malodorous dump. From 1926 on Cornu observed the loss of wetland bird habitat as the marshland filled with garbage. His led the initial salvo against the county, eventually dumping ceased 30 years later, in 1986 by order of the courts.
In the 1987 in “The Art of River Saving,” an article in the ”Complete Revival Program” published by Clearwater stated that Cornu, deceased at age of 101 in 1986, “had perhaps the longest association with the Hudson River of any conservationist.“
Most claim that the start of the Modern Environmental Movement began with the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”, or perhaps with the battle against Con Edison’s Storm King power proposal (fought from 1962-1980.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, roughly a year after Cornu’s demise. By that time Cornu had been protesting and advocating for the environment for over 35 years. Cornu’s environmental activism pre-dates the Environmental Movement by decades. This calls for a re-examination of his place in environmental history.
Source: Remembering Theodore Cornu: Unacknowledged Father of Environmentalism – Hudson River Maritime Museum (hrmm.org) by Ken Sargeant, a Croton-based Brooklyn-born, photographer, environmentalist, and historian. Paraphrased by Sherry Felix.